Swinomish Model Village – Swinomish Reservation WA


In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt allotted $2,000,000 in emergency rural rehabilitation funds to the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs (OIA). Out of this sum, OIA sent $32,000 (about $607,000 in 2020 dollars) to the Swinomish Indian Reservation for an 18-house homestead community. The community was completed in the late summer of 1936 and helped relocate families away from nearby (and less stable) floating houses. The cluster of homes still exists today and is known as the “Swinomish Model Village.”

In a special 1936 edition of Indians at Work (a publication of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs), Martin J. Sampson, chairman of the Swinomish Tribal Council, described the past bitter relationship between the Swinomish and the surrounding white community; the significance of the New Deal and the new U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier; and the importance of new Model Village:

“As a result of [an 1855 treaty with the U.S. Government] the Indians deeded all their lands and other possessions, such as their liberty and pursuit of happiness, together with the right to worship the Great Spirit in their own way. For all this they received, besides great promises, about six acres of land apiece and the right to fish on their old accustomed fishing grounds… But after eighty years… our resources were about gone. All our accustomed fishing grounds were taken over by citizens of the United States. We would have been pushed off into the Pacific Ocean, only it was thought best to reserve the ocean for the fish which were more valuable than we…

Citizens of the State of Washington, under cover of State laws, claimed our tide lands and arrested three of our men employed by the tribe to fish on our tide lands. Greater hunger hath the white men’s pocketbook than the mouths of our Indian children, let alone the old helpless men and women.

The outlook was indeed dark. Many of our leaders could not see the light of tomorrow. Personally, I would have given up and would have been a victim of eighty years of waiting but for three reasons. First, I was a member of the American Legion. Second, we have a faithful employee of the Indian Bureau, a servant and guide of the Indians, our Agency Superintendent [John Collier]. Third, the ‘New Deal.’

To make a long story short, we are fishing again… And the New Deal is a reality. Before me as I write is a tractor and grader grading the streets for the model Indian village. Concrete foundations are being laid for some twenty houses. The community hall and club house, together with some dwelling houses, will be remodeled. All labor will be by Indians with the exception of one, that one being the project manager, Mr. Alfred Nelson… These houses are to have running water and electric lights…

We are going ahead with our Self-Government [facilitated by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934] with confidence in our Commissioner that he will aid us in carrying out our program of fisheries, oyster culture, agriculture, a general store and rehabilitation.”

In 2011, Theresa Trebon, archivist for the Swinomish Tribe, said this about the importance of the Model Village:

“Housing conditions on the Swinomish Reservation were dire for most families, consisting of cold drafty shelters without running water or electricity. Health problems, particularly for children, were alarming and infant mortality was high… Taken as a whole, the Model Village is a testament to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s first major undertaking on the reservation to improve life for its members. That decision, made at a time when the Tribe’s financial outlook and opportunities were extraordinarily bleak, reflects that its hopes for the future were strong” (Trebon, April 2011)

Source notes

“Indians Given Aid: Model Homes To Be Built On Swinomish Reservation,” The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), April 1, 1936, p. 3.

U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, “The Indian Service Rehabilitation Allotment: A Summary of Accomplishments,” Indians at Work, February 15, 1937, pp. 14-19.

Martin J. Sampson, “Swinomish: Observation on the Past and a Glance Into the Future,” Indians at Work (a publication of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs), Reorganization Number, pp. 27-28. (This was a special edition of Indians at Work, published about July-August 1936. Its viewable within a larger compilation of Indians at Work, on Google Books, here(accessed December 9, 2021)).

Theresa L. Trebon, “75 Years for Swinomish Model Village,” Kee Yoks (or qyuuqs), Vol. 45, Issue 4 (Spring 2011), pp. 10-11.

Theresa L. Trebon, “The Model Village Turns 80,” Kee Yoks (or qyuuqs), Vol. 50, No. 3 (April 2016), pp. 20-21.

Email correspondence with Theresa L. Trebon, Swinomish Tribe Archivist, December 8, 2021.

Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on December 11, 2021.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Snee Oosh Road
Swinomish Indian Reservation, WA

Location notes: The Swinomish Model Village is bounded by Snee Oosh Road to the north, 1st Street to the west, Front Street to the east, and Moorage Way and Shelter Bay Drive to the south.

Coordinates: 48.391413, -122.502097

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